Diversity Begins at Home: Smriti Irani Talks Gender and Inclusion
Textile Minister Smriti Irani. (Photo: IANS)
Textile Minister Smriti Irani. (Photo: IANS)

Diversity Begins at Home: Smriti Irani Talks Gender and Inclusion

On Thursday evening, the 5’o clock news offered a refreshing breather from loud televised debates and arguments reaching no conclusion.

The World Economic Forum India Summit, hosted by Vikram Chandra on NDTV, brought together a panel of representatives from both the public and private sector to discuss diversity.

The panel included Smriti Irani (Minister of Textiles), Sashi K Mukundan (Country Head at BP Exploration), Parmesh Shahani (Head of Godrej India Cultural Lab) and Shamina Singh (Mastercard Centre for Inclusive Growth).

The topic discussed: What will it take for India to embrace, foster and protect the diversity of its population?

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Diversity – Gender, Sexuality and Talent

One of the biggest outcomes of the discussion seemed to be that diversity and inclusion need to extended to all groups. Irani pointed out that often women who are ambitious and successful are seen as too aggressive and un-feminine.

Through her position of power, Irani spoke about bringing women into the fore at educational institutions, and choosing female candidates to be representatives on administrative boards.

Shahani, the first openly gay person in a position of power at Godrej, said that 64 percent of young people in India want to work at places that are inclusive and LGBT friendly.

Singh asserted that if we don’t invest in women in fields of science and technology, we will lose out on talent.

Change Begins at Home

The panel seemed to agree that a certain mentality and values need to be inculcated at home to start the discourse on diversity at an early age.

The law can only do so much within its jurisdiction, and it “can’t change people’s hearts and mentalities,” said Irani.

Clampdown on Thoughts

On being asked if there was an increasing repression on diversity of opinions and thoughts, Irani gave the example of social media as an important tool to subvert status quo which governments can increasingly depend on for feedback.

Shahani seemed to think that an atmosphere of healthy debate is dying out only in mainstream televised debates but found examples of alternate media that are doing well and are nuanced.

Both Singh and Mukundan stressed on good leadership and allowing opinions and diverse views to fester in boardroom meetings.

Mukundan also gave the example of “agile work place” where employees, women as well as men, are allowed to choose their location of work, choose flexible timings and maternity leaves.

Closing Statements

Shahani implored people to train their children toward empathy and more importantly to repeal Section 377.

The panelists also stressed on good leadership to encourage diversity in the work place, and to employ more women and members of the LGBT community in positions of power.

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